Back in May, the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis spoke with Asia Argento about her third feature, Misunderstood (Incompresa), “a funny, free, tough-minded film… Set in the 1980s, it centers on a 9-year-old, Aria (Giulia Salerno), the underloved daughter of two monstrous narcissists, an actor (Gabriel Garko) and a pianist (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Soon after it opens, the parents separate and Aria–Ms. Argento’s original name–starts toggling between them even as they reject her, often brutally. Cast aside, she takes refuge in her love of a cat and in her imagination, which soars movingly both in her writing and in some wild fantasies.” Argento is, of course, “the daughter of the cult horror director Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi, an actress and screenwriter. Ms. Argento calls Misunderstood a personal rather than an autobiographical film, one that she’s drawn from her life with a strong sense of the absurd and a palette inspired by old Polaroids.”
“There’s something irresistibly hip about Asia Argento, even as a concept,” wrote Jessica Kiang for the Playlist in May. “[H]er public image as a wild child jack-of-all-trades-as-long-as-they’re-kinda-glamorous (actress, singer, model, director) does make her something of a poster girl for tough, troubled, attitude-y cool (just check out her Cannes red carpet pic or her Twitter account for that matter).” For Kiang, Misunderstood earns a B.
Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com: “Fodder for satire includes: a hilariously sinister Barbie-doll rape; dad’s favorite stepdaughter busting out of pink bra-tops and Daisy Mae shorts; and free-spirited mom’s New Age parties, designer hippie-wear, and age-inappropriate boyfriends. Argento manages to keep the poignancy in sight and ultimately in the forefront as Misunderstood comes up on a kids’ party that features a fight with leopard-print pillows and tossed whipped-cream cakes before a more grounding zinger of an ending.”
Writing for the Notebook, Doug Dibbern finds that Misunderstood‘s “depiction of a childhood devoid of authority is often so playfully strange that it seems a celebration of anarchy more than a lament.” And “I was jealous. This childhood seemed mostly like delirious fun to me.” But as for that ending: “As if suddenly feeling guilty for providing us so much pleasure from this derangement, Argento seems to have felt obligated, like Joseph Breen, to condemn all this glorious anarchy, punish our heroine, and send her audience a message. Why, Asia? Why?”
Misunderstood “is only slightly dependent on the self-pity that informed her last effort, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, but it feels similarly airless,” finds Elise Nakhnikian, writing for Slant. “You never question the authenticity of the emotions, but you may get tired of the operatic way in which they’re expressed, and of the solipsism that exempts the main character from any attempt to understand others while bemoaning the fact that no one loves or understands her.”
“I don’t doubt for a minute that Argento had a rough childhood,” grants the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “but Incompresa is just a shapeless slog, drowning its meandering woe-is-me narrative in lots of obnoxious kitsch. Its 103 minutes seemed a small eternity, proving the late Roger Ebert’s useful axiom that no good movie is too long and no bad one too short.”
But for the Hollywood Reporter‘s Deborah Young, Misunderstood is “a surprise charmer… Making a crucial contribution to mood is the choice of a far-ranging soundtrack of rock, punk and Mozart, some of the songs written by Argento herself. Music seems to be one of the few things that brings happiness into Aria’s life, as she momentarily finds joy in a night out with Dad and his pals from the pop electronic band The Penelopes and later a haven in Mom’s new punk rocker beau (Justin Pearson).”
More from Camillo de Marco (Cineuropa, “entertaining and tender”), Evan Dickson (Collider, A) and Glenn Dunks (Film Experience). More interviews with Argento: Nigel M. Smith (Indiewire) and Nick Vivarelli (Variety).
Update, 9/27: “As a director, Asia Argento has yet to advance beyond a notion of ‘promise,'” writes Genevieve Yue at Reverse Shot. “And judging by her third feature, Misunderstood, it’s starting to look like she never will. The film has been called in some quarters her most accomplished work to date, but like her earlier films it still seems like so much high school poetry. At its best, it revels in the thrill of putting form to one’s experiences, and there’s a palpable excitement in watching nine-year-old Aria dance with her mother, fall hard for a skater boy, or hang out backstage at a concert. Too often, though, the film indulges in a tedious solipsism and relies on the most hackneyed of coming-of-age tropes to inspire our pity for Aria.”
Update, 10/6: For Christopher Bourne at Twitch, “the young actress Giulia Salerno delivers a remarkable performance as a girl buffeted by the often monstrously cruel treatment by those around her, but who still manages to maintain a plucky resilience. Unfortunately, all the characters around her come across as shallow caricatures, and the overblown, outlandish atmosphere becomes rather repetitive and grating. Misunderstood ultimately, and ill-advisedly, takes on the self-pitying tone implied by its title, casting a pall on its initially intriguing anarchic streak, making the film a far less resonant and enlightening experience than it could have been.”